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Laurentian University project addresses climate change in northern Ontario Indigenous communities

Researchers at Laurentian University are working with Indigenous communities in northern Ontario to come up with a plan to address climate change.

'Coming up with solutions to adapt requires many groups and communities to work together'

The federal government says it will provide funding to a program that directly benefits Indigenous communities by helping individuals acquire the skills and knowledge needed to deal with the increasingly complex impacts of climate change. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Researchers at Laurentian University are working with Indigenous communities in northern Ontario to come up with a plan to address climate change.

The project is being co-led by Grand Council Treaty 3, and five tribal councils in northern Ontario. Local climate specialists with each council are sharing current science and traditional knowledge with their communities.

Laurentian Professor David Pearson, who is a part of this leadership team, says northern communities are already seeing the impacts of climate change — including shorter winter road seasons, drier summers, and changes to food sources, such as fewer geese in some areas.

"Some communities have invited members of other communities where the geese are not as accessible as they used to be, to come to their community, where they still are accessible," he said.

"So that's a very communal or very broad-thinking way of enabling people to work in communities to adapt."

Laurentian University environmental science professor David Pearson is part of the the ongoing project, which is in collaboration with tribal councils and First Nations in the region. The project has many elements, including knowledge-sharing workshops and establishing an Indigenous regional adaptation knowledge exchange network. (Erik White/CBC)

Matawa Tribal Council's Sarah Cockerton says First Nation communities are already experiencing the affects of climate change.

"Our member communities have already experienced unprecedented changes surrounding food security, transportation, health, and social well-being. These changes are projected to expand and intensify in the years to come," she said, adding that coming up with solutions to adapt requires many groups and communities to work together.

"Adapting to climate change requires a team effort and access to current, accurate, and relevant information. [This] project provides our First Nations with an opportunity to share, learn, and prepare to respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by climate change, while working together with a network of forward-thinking communities and organizations across northern Ontario."

Natural Resources Canada officially announced about $841,000 in funding for the project yesterday, through its "Building Regional Adaptation, Capacity and Expertise" program, although work has already been underway for about 18 months.

"The idea behind the program is not that outsiders should come in and tell First Nations what needs to be done, but that we work together as a team in order to build the capacity, as it's called, the understanding and the knowledge and the ability to to predict and project the future with First Nations themselves," Pearson said.

"So they can do it themselves, both in the community and in the tribal councils, which are the sort-of equivalent of municipalities of First Nations. The idea is that we should work with them in order to pass on the knowledge of Western science, which has a lot to do with the way that we understand climate will change in the future. And that's not just temperature, but the frequency of severe storms and windstorms and that sort of knowledge from Western science."

Pearson spoke about the project with Morning North CBC host Markus Schwabe on Friday.

Researchers at Laurentian University are working with Indigenous communities in northern Ontario to come up with a plan to address climate change. We heard more from Laurentian professor David Pearson who is leading the project. 7:57

With files from Sarah MacMillan

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